Studying Wildlife Research Techniques in Tanzania

Name: Abby Pope

Type of Project: Study Abroad

This past summer, I went through a third-party program called the School for Field Studies and participated in their program on Wildlife Research Techniques. I spent one month in a small village in northern Tanzania, studying the Manyara-Tarangire ecosystem. I spent a couple hours in the classroom each week learning about different research/observation/data collection techniques and then I would actually go out into the field to apply what I learned.

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The gate to Moyo Hill Camp-where I lived in Tanzania

I learned a lot during my four weeks in Tanzania, everything from learning to speak a new language to how to hand wash my clothes. But, I think the most valuable thing I learned was that I am cut out for a career in field research. For a couple years now, when people have asked me the dreaded question every college student hates to hear  (i.e. “what do you want to do?”) I’ve always confidently said field research. But in my mind, I’ve had my doubts. I’ve always had a desire to study elephants and that would mean I would have to travel to Africa or Southeast Asia in order to study them in their natural habitats. Would I be able to leave my life in America to do that? Would I be able to adapt to my new lifestyle? Would I get so homesick that I’d have to leave? These are all questions I have asked myself. So when I saw that SFS had a program that taught field research techniques in a location where I was guaranteed to see some elephants, I knew this would be my perfect opportunity to see if I really could create a career and life around field research.

Traveling to Tanzania was a big step for me in many ways. It was the first time I flew in an airplane, it was the first time I left the United States, and it was the first time I felt like I was truly challenging myself. Before leaving, I had always thought of Africa has the hot, Serengeti Plains and I was in for a huge shock when I stepped off the plain and realized how cold and green Africa could be. The cold was the first shock, the next shock was the food. We ate the same thing for breakfast every morning, lunch was different variations of pasta, and dinner was beef that was too chewy for my taste or goat or fish (meats I didn’t eat). I also had to get used to cold showers. We had a water heater that made the water lukewarm at best, but that was only when the power was on and we could actually use the heater. We had WiFi, but it was terribly slow, which made for a difficult research paper to write. There was no access to a washer and dryer, so all of our clothes were hand washed. This usually consisted of me bending over a bucket and rubbing my clothes together and trying to get all of the red dirt out of my clothes.

The view from Moyo Hill

The view from Moyo Hill

All of these things that were very hard to get used to. After all, I had spent 20 years used to the fact that my showers would always be hot, I had no reason to wash my clothes by hand, and I always had multiple options when it came to food. And even though these were obstacles, I got through them, because they were really only such small inconveniences compared to the people I was meeting, the things I was learning, and the places I got to see.

For the first time, in a long time, I actually enjoyed all of my classes while I was in Tanzania. They were interesting to me and the fact that I got to apply what I learned one morning in class later out in the field in the afternoon was amazing. Everything made a lot more sense when I could actually apply theory to practice and I gained a lot of valuable information on different types of field research techniques.

We spent an afternoon identifying animal tracks with the Maasai (I'm on the far right) !

We spent an afternoon identifying animal tracks with the Maasai !

At the end of my stay, when I re-evaluated everything that I had been through and experienced, I realized that I was extremely capable of having a career in field research. It would undeniably be a little bit challenging at first, overcoming the cultural shock and getting used the resources I’d have available to me, and accepting that I was away from home and family. But, I’ve always considered myself to be fairly adaptable so I think that the mores times I travel to a new location, it will seem like more of an adventure rather than a challenge.

I was extremely delighted by how I handled my safari in Tanzania and I came back to Ohio State rejuvenated and ready to tackle any academic challenge that might be thrown my way on the road to becoming a research scientist. Ideally, I’d like to study elephant behavior, so I’m excited to take my behavior/endocrinology classes next year. I’m also eager to use my new knowledge on research techniques to aid me in my own individual research in the lab that I’m currently in. And, lastly, rather than being anxious about graduate school, I’m now very excited about all the possibilities/projects that lie ahead of me.

I will never forget my time in Tanzania. The experience made me a better person and a better student. I am now more aware about the problems and challenges people in other cultures face on a day to day basis. Though this is the only way they know how to live their lives, I respect what they do every day and I appreciate the resources I have so much more. I’m so excited to begin my career in field research and the classes I took and the techniques I learned only reaffirmed that.

There were so many elephants in Tarangire National Park!

There were so many elephants in Tarangire National Park!

Before leaving and during my stay, I kept a blog about my travels. It was a great way for me to process what was happening and to be able to share what I was doing with my friends and family while I was away. You can find all 24 of my posts here: Lions and Elephants and Giraffes, Oh My!

Nicaragua Medical/Public Health Brigade

For my STEP project, I went on a medical/public health brigades trip to Nicaragua with Global Brigades, a campus organization. The trip took place from May 12-20, 2015 in Estelí, Nicaragua. During the first 3 days of the medical brigade, members from the El Naranjo community were provided doctor/dentist consultations, gynecology clinics, medicine, and health education workshops. The next 3 days consisted of fixing up 3 of the homes in their community with putting cement down on their floors and building outdoor latrines and showers.

This Global Brigade in Nicaragua was in an area where family members survive on less than $2 per day and where medical and economic needs are severely neglected. Additionally, resources for basic services are low, including lack of clean water and public health- related infrastructure. Nicaragua was selected based on their high need for services in their rural areas, strong on-the ground partnerships for sustainability, how accessible it is at transporting groups, providing a place to stay, and food and safety.

While on the trip I learned valuable things that I could take with me for a lifetime. I learned how to take vitals of patients, which was really cool. I was able to work with some very talented physician’s and learn things from them such as what medicine they would prescribe for certain symptoms. As a result of being in a Spanish speaking country I picked up on some more Spanish while there, too.

GMB 15!

GMB 15!

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My favorite part of the experience was being able to be so hands-on with the patients such as taking vitals of the patients and filling prescriptions for medicine. I also loved being able to shadow the phenomenal doctors that helped with the trip. The Charla (or educational workshops) was also one of my favorite part of the trip because I got to interact with the children and teach them the importance of hygiene. Learning a little about the Nicaraguan culture and seeing how the people from the El Naranjo community were so grateful by just a week’s work form us was priceless. Getting to know a group of people who were from Ohio State and share similar goals as me was also a great part of the experience.

This trip impacted my academic, personal and life goals because before this trip I’ve never been out the country and it was be my first time in a clinical setting, which I need to get accustomed to being around since I plan on pursuing a physicians assistant program following my undergraduate studies.

Critical Changes in China

This summer I spent three months in Beijing, China: one month with my step family and another two months studying at the Beijing Language and Culture University. These months completely changed my perspective on my goals and my life in no small way.

With exposure to Chinese culture came my great existential crisis. My passion has always been to help others; I decided early to focus on poverty alleviation and equality. I believe that everyone deserves to explore their talents and dreams to their fullest capacity and not be limited by external factors like food, shelter, or politics. My undergraduate studies were originally a gateway to explore relief and development programs in the third world. My success as an Honors student, however, began to draw my attention away from my passion. People discovered I was smart and groomed me to compete against other, prize-hungry, driven young individuals. I began to focus on the praise and the short-term goals that professors and advisors urged me to complete. I lost my path for a year.

Visiting China was the breath of fresh air I needed to regain my footing. I visited the Great Wall, reflected at a sacred Daoist Temple, marveled at the stone fixtures of the Forbidden City, felt the ancient ties move me. I realized that the approval I receive on campus from peers and faculty will not follow me as I challenge the most corrupt systems in the world (the same mindsets that capture us in the U.S.); however, the resources and knowledge I collect as an OSU student will help me immensely as I tackle these issues. My time in China taught me to be an eclectic thinker— to take what will be useful from the undergraduate experience and to not bother with the rest. Now, I focus on the information I gain from my classes rather than the grade I receive. I read books I’ve been wanting to read for years instead of applying for national– and ultimately empty– prizes. I’m much happier now and full of purpose. My overall GPA will probably drop, my support circle will shrink, but that is a small price to pay for taking my life back from other’s expectations and making it mine.

I have many people to thank for my transformation. I thank my step aunt and uncle for taking me in as one of their own, even though we had never met before. They showed me compassion as a stranger in a new town and comforted me as I grieved over the death of my grandfather. I thank my three year old cousin for teaching me Chinese and outshining my depression with her unbridled joy. I thank my friend Yang Yang for being my friend even though my language skills were poor. I thank the nice family who showed me I’m not the only one deeply concerned by the suffering in the world. I thank my program for being lenient with me as I struggled with both inner and outer demons. I am most grateful for my new partner, Walter. We met each other in the depths of life changes, and found company in each other’s thoughts and dreams. I am indebted to him for helping me become a stronger version of myself.

I look forward to the changes my new life outlook will bring.

My Irish Adventure

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For my STEP experience, I traveled to Ireland with an Ohio State study abroad program about the history and archaeology of medieval Ireland. While in Ireland, our group visited many monasteries and sites with great historical significance to Irish history. After a good fill of adventure, I spent three weeks learning and working at an archaeological site excavating the remains of a 12th century monastery.

The primary difference I have noticed since studying in Ireland is the increase in my confidence. Before studying abroad, I wouldn’t have considered myself to be self conscious, but since I’ve been back I have noticed a profound increase in my self-assurance. Now, I am able to be more of an advocate for myself and worry less about other’s opinions of me. By going to Ireland, I challenged myself, and learned more about myself in the process. As a result, I better know who I am and what I am capable of.

My worldview also majorly changed, because I spent time in both large cities and small towns. Having lived in Columbus my whole life, I was shocked at how big of a city Dublin was. In the small towns, I experienced close-knit communities where most people knew each other. Looking forward, I am not sure I want to stay in Columbus for the rest of my life, but now I have a better idea of what I may want to look for and what else is out there.

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There were many things that happened on the trip that lead to my personal transformation. Right off the bat, I was faced with a challenge when my flights were cancelled. It was tough for me because I wasn’t expecting problems before I had even left Port Columbus. In the end, I was able to get on a flight and everything worked out fine. Situations like this one help me to remember that even if things don’t go as planned, everything will be okay in the end.

Another reason I changed was simply being able to experience all of the things I hadn’t before. One of my favorites was hiking to the top of a large hill called Loughcrew. At the top were passage tombs, where important people from Irish History were buried. The view was breathtaking, since from the top you could see a third of the country. That sense of awe and wonder, and connection to the people who were in the same place hundreds of years ago is something that will continue to stay with me.

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Finally, I attribute so much of my experience and transformation to the people around me during my trip. Both the Ohio State students and Irish archaeologists made me feel welcome, respected and safe. Being in that environment for a month, really allowed me to let my guard down. For the entire month, I always felt people appreciated what I had to say even though they didn’t necessarily agree. Being around these people motivated me to be a better person, something I am very grateful for.

 

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Even though, there is very little chance I will ever dazzle with my knowledge of Irish monasticism or archaeology, I am sure I will draw on something I gained from this trip everyday. Over the course of my trip, I got better at communicating with people and working in a team. As an engineer, these are things that are extremely important, but often get lost in difficult coursework. These skills are also things I use in everyday life.

Participating in STEP has allowed me to live a life where I am not afraid of taking chances on new things. As a result, I look forward to traveling more and living in new places. Personal growth is something that I value very much, and going to Ireland showed me that traveling is a great way for me to improve myself. In the future, I feel that I will be able thrive in a completely new city and have few regrets about the choices I make during my life.

To see more about my adventure, visit my blog from the trip at abbieinireland.wordpress.com

-Abbie Nypaver

Studying German Language and Culture in Dresden

This summer for the month of June I traveled to Dresden to study at the Goethe-Institute. I went to practice and develop my German language skills, as well as learn more about the culture of the nation where my grandparents emigrated from. The program allowed me to take classes every day for a month, but also gave me the freedom to travel around and experience the city and surrounding areas on my own. The skills I gained at the institute were put to test in an exam that determined a grade to be used for credit for my German minor.

This was not my first time abroad, nor was it my first time to Germany. My father had taken me there to see our family twice before in my life, both when I was younger. I also had no understanding of the language at the times that I went, relying on my father’s broken German to communicate, or just to enjoy their company without speaking. This time, however, I had two years of German under my belt that allowed me to really talk to my family and people who I met in many different places. Being able to do this gave me a unique perspective on the German people because I could now hear their stories, listen to their interactions, and understand what it is like to live there every day. This skill allowed me to meet many new and interesting people. For example, at a street festival in Dresden my friends and I began speaking with an immigrant from Poland whose parents were from Mozambique. We spoke for around an hour all in German. It was cool hearing his story and telling him mine; it was a conversation I won’t soon forget.

Being in Germany and speaking the language also taught me a lot about myself. Never before did I think I would start up conversations with complete strangers in a foreign tongue, but while I was there that is exactly what I was doing. I discovered a new found confidence and realized that I can succeed in situations that seemed daunting to me before.

The most important relationship that developed while I was in Germany was all the friends I made from Ohio State. It was incredibly helpful to be able to have these friends to rely on when the feeling of being in a foreign land got to be too much. We challenged each other to improve our skills, as well as went on adventures together to incredible places with great new friends.

It is also interesting to note that those studying at the institute came from all over the world. I met many students from numerous countries like Ireland, Spain, Egypt, Vietnam, Italy, and other schools in the US. It was fun for me to listen to what they thought of Americans and for us to tell them how we viewed them. We learned different perspectives on the world and listened to amazing stories. Its so cool that a common second-language can bring so different people together.

I was also able to travel around Germany before and after the program in order to visit some of relatives. Some of them I hadn’t seen for many years, others I had never met before. But for each family it was like I had known them my whole life. They were very welcoming and happy to show me around. I met fun cousins who introduced me to their friends and stayed up with talking into the late hours of the night. We keep in contact over Facebook and have already made plans for them to come to the US or for me to go back to Germany soon.

There were many places that I got to see and people I got to meet that had a profound impact on me. One event was sitting on the bank of the river Elbe in the heart of Dresden with other students from OSU the night before we all left for home. The combination of the beautiful view and the great friends made me realize how lucky I was to be right where I was sitting. I would never trade that night for anything else.

Acquiring the skills that I did in Germany will be immeasurable in my future endeavors. Firstly, my hopeful career in international relations will rely heavily on me having a deep understanding of different cultures and languages. I will be able to show my ability to learn a language in a short time and that I could thrive in a foreign city. Secondly, the program helped me further my education in German and gave me credit to be used at OSU that will go towards my German minor. This freed up a lot of space in my schedule so that I can take other interesting classes in my last two years that I may not have had time for before. Lastly, I have strengthened my relationship with family abroad, and the thanks to the program I will be able to return and use my language skills to strengthen it further.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to a foreign land, developed my language skills, immersed myself in the culture, met incredible new people, and made lifetime friends.

 

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The program allowed for weekend trips. Some friends from OSU and I traveled to Prague (above) and to Berlin (below) during our free time.

 

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Social Issues and Human Rights in Nicaragua

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP experience was a study abroad program through the College of Social Work.  The trip was Social Issues and Human Rights in Nicaragua.  In addition to learning about the social issues in Nicaragua this trip included a home stay so that we could become immersed in the culture.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project

When it comes to study abroad I think everyone expects to experience extreme and shocking differences.  And while uncertainty and adapting to change are certainly part of the value of the study abroad experience, I think they eclipse many of the similarities which are equally shocking.  I think that for every startling difference our group experienced there was an equally significant similarity between our way of life in the United States, and the way of life we experienced in Nicaragua.  One part of the trip, for me, where the similarities were more surprising than the differences was the home stay.  When we talked about the home stay as a group many people said that the best part for them was gaining a new perspective on the way others live.  And while there were certainly differences between my home in the United States and my home in Nicaragua, the differences are what I have been calling “superficial differences.”  The differences were physical differences in the amount of luxury or scale of the homes; my home in Nicaragua and my home in the United States both possess all the same fundamental necessities of a functioning home.  They both have bathrooms and showers, they are both structurally sound, they both have beds, a place to store and prepare food, and sources of drinking water.

Similarly, in talking with our host family I felt a connection between the difficulties that each one of us faces in our respective countries.  Our host families described that there was very little opportunity in Nicaragua.  While the United States likes to export media claiming that this is the land of opportunity, in reality many people experience these same frustration in the United States.

In relation to human rights issues, I’ve found it somewhat difficult to assess the similarities and differences.  As heinous as this is, in the United States and in Nicaragua alike different people do not all experience the same basic human rights.  Human rights are somewhat fluid, and while one of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that these human rights are inalienable, undeniable, and indivisible this simply doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.  In the United States I am fortunate enough to feel that at any given time I have all my human rights.  The reason why this question of comparing and contrasting human rights is difficult for me is because I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of privilege for so long that I’m not always aware of my privilege.  So my knee-jerk reaction when comparing human rights in Nicaragua and the United States is to say that there are significant disparities.  However, based on my studies and my personal experiences I know that tat isn’t exactly the case.  Juanita regular experiences harsh persecution and discrimination in Nicaragua.  While it seem like the United States has a more progressive attitude towards gay marriage and the LGBTQ community in general, I recognize that everywhere this is not the case.  Another human rights difference that initially shocked me was the penial code in Nicaragua.  Going to “La Casona” I was stunned to find an some from the United States serving a ten year sentence for position of marijuana.  However if you step back and analyze the prison situation in the United States is one of the gravest human rights violations of them all.  According to the most recent human rights watch world report states that United States prisons still employ solitary confinement, which is considered mistreatment.  In addition drug policy is disproportionately enforced towards minorities.  The difference between the prison system in Nicaragua and the United States s that at “La Casona” prisons are rehabilitated and given skills to aid them in reentry while the prison system in the United States focuses on reparations, stripping convicts of many of their human rights after they have served their sentence.  In this sense “La Casona” could become a model for the prison systems in the United States.

The one striking difference I noticed between Nicaragua and the United States is a difference in community.  During our home stay we rode the public bus to our host family’s home.  The bus was very crowded and a mother with two you girls got on the bus.  In Nicaragua people drive rather quickly and the little kids were getting thrown around on the bus.  Our host mother, Anielka, took one of the small children and sat the child down on her lap.  She then asked the child where her mother was and gave the mother a little nod of recognition.  I was shocked to see this.  In the United States, if you were to grab some else’s child and put them on your lap the mother would probably call the police.  There was a much stronger sense of community in Nicaragua then I have felt returning to the United States.

 

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Upon first arriving to Nicaragua the first barrier I had to address in order to function effectively in the country was the culture barrier.  Since returning from Nicaragua I’ve become aware of how loud yet shy the culture is in the United States.  In the United States we speak very loudly, while I’ve noticed Nicaraguans are typically softer spoken.  Also, In the United States people avoid eye contact with strangers, while in Nicaragua the culture is less shy and rather it’s considered polite to smile and make eye contact.  Being a gringo, or an outsider, lowering my voice and meeting everyone’s gaze with a smile was essential to breaking the initial distance I experienced.  Eventually I accustomed myself to these Nicaraguan mannerisms and interestingly enough, when I returned to America I had to again adjust to the new social norms.  I would smile at that walked by me at the airport and instead of returning my smile people would just look down or away.  As I adjust to being back I find that even though I want to keep the friendlier Nicaraguan social norms of speaking softly and smiling, I find it difficult to do so when it’s not reciprocated.

After learning the nonverbal cultural norms the next barrier to overcome was the language barrier.  Being able to communicate in Spanish is a personal goal of mine.  I think anyone that hopes to work in the service industry in the United States will have to be able to communicate in Spanish   I had taken one Spanish course prior to this trip, so my Spanish before the trip was extremely limited.  At first I was very nervous to speak in Spanish as I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.  There were two events that brought me out of y Spanish shell.  The first was at Techo.  The presenter that spoke to us presented in English for about the first half of his presentation.  Even though his English wasn’t perfect everyone in the group really appreciated that he was willing to try to speak English for us.  I decided that even if my Spanish wasn’t very good people would appreciate the effort I was making to communicate with them.  This premise turned out to be true for every person I spoke with on the trip (with the exception of the build sight leader at, ironically, Techo who didn’t want to slow down his Spanish for us). The next experience that got me more comfortable approaching people and speaking in Spanish was the first time I spoke with someone in Spanish on the street.  Some people from the group was taking a walk to the grocery store in Managua.  We weren’t sure where the grocery store is so we decided we should stop and ask someone.  I asked the group if I could be the one to ask in order to practice my Spanish and they agreed.  Before I approached the person I was really nervous, but I got some positive peer pressure from the group and was able to ask the question.  In this experience positive peer pressure helped my get over my nervousness and interact in Spanish.

This trip was an English class and all our meetings were translated, so in the day to day activities Spanish was not crucial.  The one time I felt Spanish was crucial was during my home stay.  When Graham and I first met Anielka the initial conversation we had was very broken and awkward.  We didn’t ask many questions or engage with her very much, and overall the interaction was awkward.  After that initial meeting Graham and I decided to brainstorm ideas as to what questions we could ask in order to have better conversation.  In addition to this brainstorming I downloaded and offline Spanish dictionary.  We never ended up using the prompts Graham and I has written, but making those prompts put us in a mindset of getting over uncomfortable situations.  This little push, and the vocabulary help a dictionary provided, allowed us to get over our nervousness and really interact with our host family.  Even after the homestay I was comfortable using my limit Spanish to interact with people.

 

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

The first and most obvious way this trip was enriched my experience was through learning Spanish.  As previously mentioned I feel that being able to speak Spanish is critical to the work I want to do in the future.  Beyond just learning Spanish, this experience has shown me how much fun it would be to be able to speak Spanish, and how many doors it would open.  Because of this trip I’ve recommitted myself to learning Spanish and have already signed up for Spanish classes.  To me that push to motivate myself will be invaluable.

Secondly, through this trip I have discovered the part of me that can lean into uncomfortable situations.  Speaking in a different language changes your personality, or at least the external parts of your personality and the way you express yourself.  For example, when I speak Hebrew I become more reserved because although I have a level of fluency in the language, I find I’m not able to express myself quite as well as I am in English.  So I somewhat expected be withdraw when I had to speak Spanish.  But to my surprise the exact opposite happened.  Spanish Cory is so inept at expressing himself that in Spanish I rely heavily on being outgoing and funny, usually self-depreciating humor, in order to make a connection with people.  Through this trip I’ve learned the importance of the nonverbal parts of communication, and had the opportunity to fine-tune these skills. I hope to bring these confidence skills with no matter what language I’m speaking.

Finally the last learning take-away is what I call “alternate history.”  History as it is studied in schools across the United States is not a set of facts but rather a set of moral that society hopes to teach us.  In my social work curriculum I have been exposed to many aspects of the history of the United States that traditionally go untaught and unlearned.  I’ve really enjoyed stepping out of the confines of socially mandated history; entertaining multiple realities and perspectives at once allows me to think more critically about the current situation.  Through this trip I’ve learned a lot about the history of the United States from the Nicaraguan perspective.  Knowing that the citizens of Nicaragua feel that the United States has treated Central America as its own backyard gives me new perspective on the foreign policies we put forth and the actual effect it has vs the intended effect it has.

 

Brazil Global Ma

For my STEP Signature Project I travelled through various parts of Brazil for 27 days.  A group of 22 OSU students and 2 OSU professors were with me and we travelled and learned about the culture and people of Brazil together.  I got the opportunity to use my Portuguese language skills and to learn about a culture and country vastly different from my own.

Throughout my trip I collected experiences that now allow me to look at the world in a different, more open-minded way.  I realized that differences are not bad or good; they are simply different.  Living in foreign cities with host families taught me that every person lives differently and that being accepting of new things is the best way to get everything the experience has to offer.  I also learned that as a global citizen I need to be more open-minded to change and to how that change may help people other than myself and my country.

One of the largest things I realized while traveling through Brazil is how grateful I am for the opportunities I have been afforded at this university and in my day-to-day life.  After spending time with poor children and seeing the lengths they go to for an education or some type of job training I realized that I am going through an experience that not everyone is afforded and that I should take it for all it’s worth.  Taking things for granted is something I think everyone does to some extent but spending time in a foreign place made me thankful for what I have at home.

Several key aspects led to my transformation throughout this program.  The time we spent with young children and the things I learned from them, the opportunity to live with a Brazilian family, and the time I got to spend with my fellow OSU peers were all things that added value to this experience.  In every city we went to we had the opportunity to visit children in various after school programs and at their schools to experience what school was like for them.  Walking in to these schools I felt overwhelmed by questions about what my life was like back home, if I went to school, how old I was, and surprisingly enough, if I knew the Kardashians.  All these questions were being thrown at me in Portuguese no less.  After taking the time to slowly answer all their questions with my limited Portuguese skills I realized that all the children were exactly like I was when I was their age.  They were worried about the same things I was but in different ways.  All the children I met were more than excited to learn about my life and they had looks of a certain level of disappointment to find out that my life was very average.  I did get several funny statements about how I was getting a little old to still be single; I am 20.  But after spending time with all the kids I realized that kids are the same everywhere and that just because their surroundings are different than mine were doesn’t mean that we were vastly different from each other.

Living with a Brazilian family was an experience that I will never forget.  Learning the different aspects of a household and how it was run was interesting because it was very different than an average American household.  My family had a maid that cooked and cleaned and did laundry.  This was strange to me because at home my mom and dad took care of most of the house related things and my siblings and I took care of the rest with our chores.  Another difference that added to my transformation was how a Brazilian day looked.  They got up early and ate a light breakfast and lunch and then didn’t eat dinner until 9:30 or 10 o’clock and were out until the early morning hours.  I was not well adjusted to this even after living there for 27 days and partaking in as much as I could.  I also learned the loyalty Brazilian’s place on family.  It is very much like it is in the United States; family is the most important thing you have.  I appreciate the relationship I got to have with my mae, Portuguese for mother.  She was an interesting woman that taught me how to make passionfruit juice and how to say countless words in Portuguese.  This experience was a large part of the learning that took place while I was abroad.

Being away from home for 27 days with a group of strangers and then being surrounded by strangers can sounds intimidating.  Except the people you think are going to be strangers become best friends and family very quickly.  The group of my peers that I travelled with became my friends and support system while I was in Brazil and many of them still are today.  The opportunity to get to know such a diverse group of students and two professors was invaluable.  I have increased my network at Ohio State by 24 people and I am thankful for that everyday.  I learned about what they saw as the most different and I taught them what I noticed and thought.  I also had the opportunity of helping many of them learn basic Portuguese and I helped them communicate with shop owners and waiters at restaurants.  It was exciting to know that we were all having the same experience but that this experience was going to mean something so much different to each and every one of us.

This transformation is valuable in my life because I now know to accept difference instead of writing them off as bad or negative things.  I am now able to learn about a different culture with an open mind and I’m not afraid to ask questions if I have them.  I know that the best way to learn about a people is to talk to them and experience what they experience in their lives.  This trip and the experiences I had in the cities and with the people has opened my world view and created a desire to travel and learn about the differences that exist across the world.

Visit to an after school program for under privileged children in Rio Preto, SP, Brazil

Visit to an after school program for under privileged children in Rio Preto, SP, Brazil

Visit to an ethanol factory to learn about how this renewable energy is used.

Visit to an ethanol factory to learn about how this renewable energy is used.

My Month in Madrid

I have dedicated years to learning about the history and culture of Spanish speaking countries, and I have spent many hours trying to fully grasp the Spanish language. Since I first began working with the language in middle school, I have wanted to practice my skills by traveling to a Spanish-speaking nation. This was only a dream, however, until I received my STEP funding.

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For my STEP program I studied abroad on the Global May Madrid trip this past summer. During this time I lived in a dorm in Madrid and took a course on the history and culture of the city. Although the class was taught in English, I got to exercise my language skills daily while exploring the city and meeting many new people. The credits for the course I took also count towards a GE credit for my major, so I was able to take another small step towards graduation while having the experience of a lifetime.

 

Before traveling to Madrid I had no idea how rich and complex their country’s culture was. I learned so much about the immigration to Spain throughout history and the effects it had on all aspects of culture. There is a strong Moroccan influence in the country, which can be seen in the design of many old palaces. We also got to see the Roman aqueducts that were built in Segovia centuries ago. This redefined how connected the entire world is to me, and made me feel more globally aware.

 

On a more personal level, I feel like my time abroad deepened my understanding of and compassion towards cultural differences. At home in the United States, I often find it easy to become frustrated with different cultures due to ignorance. If I don’t understand why someone dresses a certain way or acts in a certain manner, it’s easy to judge the person without considering a deeper meaning for their looks or actions. In Spain, though, we were the strange ones who acted differently and did not understand the culture. I felt what it was like to be a minority, and this caused me to reconsider the way I have interacted with foreigners in the United States.

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A few key experiences led to my development during the trip. First, we were often embarrassingly clueless in our new environment. On one of our first days in Madrid, we tried to get lunch at a nearby restaurant. In Spain, unlike the United States, it is customary to walk in, pick your own table, and wait for a waiter to take your order. It took us several minutes to figure out that no hostess would be seating us, nor was their a counter for us to order at. We knew how we must have looked to the locals, but we had to learn to smile and get used to feeling slightly uncomfortable and out of place. These types of interactions caused me to reflect on how I have viewed ‘outsiders’ when I was the local.

 

Another key experience was befriending the students in our dorm who attending the university in Madrid. They taught us about their culture on a more personal level than we could experience in public, and a more informal level that we could get from our professors. Through their friendship we were able to see that although so many things about our lifestyles are different, human experience transcends cultural differences. We laughed at many of the same things, had many of the same goals and desires in life, and did many of the same things for fun. While we were learning about the differences between Spain and the United States in class, we learned about their similarities from the other students.

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Finally, I think the immense freedom we were given had a large impact on my confidence and the way I view myself. There were times I would be walking through the city and realize no one I knew had any idea where I was except for the people I was with at the moment. No one in the States had any idea where I was or what I was experiencing, and I had no means of contacting them even if they did. Although it was scary at moments to be so completely alone, it was also very freeing. I think this helped me to grow as a person and realize that I am capable of functioning fully on my own, even though I rely heavily on several support systems while at home.

 

Academically, this experience improved my Spanish skills, which I will be able to apply to my minor, and my communication and problem solving skills, which I will be able to apply to all my classes and my future career in business. I am pursing a career in human resources, so my future position will likely include many forms of communication with diverse groups of people. I now have lots of experience conversing with those of diverse backgrounds. In addition, I was forced to find ways to quickly adapt to and navigate through many strange and unfamiliar circumstances, which improved my ability to think quickly and solve problems through resourcefulness. Each of these skills will help me academically while in school and throughout life.

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Personally, this trip gave me a clearer picture of my future and made me more confident in my abilities to grasp my goals. I have always thought about moving away from Ohio and starting a new life in a new area after graduation, but I have also long feared being on my own. In Madrid I found it was easy for me to be far removed from the life I was used to, and I gained confidence in my abilities to adapt, meet people, and start a new life. Now I feel strongly that I can relocate to any city after graduation and be happy their. It also showed me how much I love traveling, and has inspired me to begin looking into career options that involve time abroad. I would love to return to Madrid one day, and even possibly live their long term.